Denver-based Luca Seeks to Capture Natural Gas from Wyoming Coal Deposits

Gas-producing bacteria munching on Wyoming coal may be a key solution to the nation's energy future, a Denver company claimed Tuesday.

Nov. 17—Gas-producing bacteria munching on Wyoming coal may be a key solution to the nation's energy future, a Denver company claimed Tuesday.

While much of the world's natural gas took millions of years to make, some new gas is being created every day and can be managed to produce a long-lasting supply, according to Luca Technologies Inc.

The prolific Powder River Basin in northern Wyoming, the site of thousands of coal-bed methane wells, is producing natural gas in "real time," Luca's researchers said, citing laboratory research.

"This finding holds the potential of turning what is today thought to be a finite energy resource into a renewable source of natural gas that could potentially go on for hundreds of years," said Robert Pfeiffer, president and chief executive of Luca.

Pfeiffer said the company believes it can speed the anaerobic production of natural gas by injecting bacteria and nutrients underground.

The company's announcement produced cautious reaction Tuesday from energy-industry officials and academics.

"Under the right conditions, the Lucas of the world believe they can re-create nature by adding bacteria and generate more methane," said Peter Dea, CEO of Western Gas Resources, a major gas producer in the Powder River Basin.

"The concept or hypothesis has been around for many years. It could be plausible but would require some field testing." Colorado School of Mines petroleum engineering professor Jennifer Miskimins said Luca's research "is probably not going to revolutionize the (energy) industry in and of itself." "But if what they're saying is true, it will be a benefit," she said. "The (natural gas) resource is limited, and as an industry we should be looking for ways to enhance recovery."

Luca, a privately owned company, was created in 2001 by eight scientists and energy industry officials. The firm has no current revenue or income, relying on an undisclosed amount of private capital to finance its research.

The key to making the research work, Pfeiffer said, is to change the way energy companies are producing coal-bed methane. Current methods of drilling, extracting water from wells and pumping methane introduce oxygen to coal seams, which kills the anaerobic bacteria.

Using different production techniques that prevent the infusion of oxygen will keep the microbes producing new gas, even as existing methane is pulled out of the formations, Pfeiffer said.

"These are the same little critters that give us gas as human beings, and produce methane in landfills and cows," he said. "Now we're starting to figure out that they're quite ubiquitous under ground."

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